The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has blasted the Burmese government for reneging on its commitment to allow the group to open an office in Burma, saying that it is not serious about humanitarian issues.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday from the OIC headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the director of the Muslim Minorities and Communities Department, Talal Daous, said, “It is an unfortunate thing to happen, because this office is only for humanitarian purposes.
“We have already signed an agreement, but it seems the government of Myanmar [Burma] is not serious about humanitarian issues,” he said.
Naypyidaw’s move to backtrack on its agreement with the Islamic bloc came after Buddhist monks led demonstrations in several cities across the country to protest the decision to allow the OIC to open an office.
The President’s Office in Naypyidaw issued a statement on its website on Tuesday saying that it is the wishes of the people that the OIC not be given the right to set up an office in Burma.
However, Talal Daous said that the OIC had not received any official statement from the Burmese government and is still waiting for an answer.
The OIC signed an MoU with the Burmese government on Aug. 11 to open offices for humanitarian purposes in Rangoon and Sittwe. A delegation from the OIC then traveled to Arakan State in September to inspect the aftermath of communal clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in the strife-torn region.
The OIC said that it intends to distribute humanitarian aid to victims from both the Arakanese Buddhist and Muslim Rohingya communities without discrimination.
“We are also urging the international community to help the victims,” said Talal Daous. “From a humanitarian point of view, we are seeking to help all people who were effected by violence.”
He said that the victims continue to suffer.
Hla Thein, a Muslim community leader in Rangoon, said, “The current announcement by the President’s office not to allow the OIC to base [in Burma] is favorable only to the Rakhine people.
“No one will trust this government,” he said. “The Myitsone dam was a similar case when they signed an agreement, but then withdrew it again. In fact, they should not sign an agreement in the first place if they’re going to act like that.”
Chris Lewa, an NGO coordinator working with the Rohingya in western Arakan State, said, “I can understand why people feel threatened by an OIC presence in Sittwe, although I don’t see why the OIC should not have a diplomatic presence in Yangon [Rangoon] as other regional bodies do.
“The Burmese government has now changed its mind as it already has too many conflicts on its hands and does not want to antagonize people, especially monks with a strong moral authority, and it wants to avoid at all costs any further unrest [which] could be exploited and spread beyond Arakan.”
Lewa, who visited Sittwe as a consultant for Refugees International in September, said, “A lot of humanitarian funding has already been pledged but so far little has actually materialized through the UN and the Myanmar Red Cross Society. The serious dilemma is the issue of segregation. That is why aid has focused on emergency assistance for the displaced—building shelters, food relief and drinking water. But there is an urgent need to also provide better sanitation, health services and education.”
Hla Thein said that Rohingya refugees who do not have enough food will face starvation.
According to Lewa: “The segregation policy in Sittwe is shocking and unacceptable and it will only increase tensions. The government should take drastic action to stop and prosecute extremist Rakhine elements harassing the Muslim population and actively work for a solution and to restore peace and the rule of law.
“Humanitarian assistance alone is not a solution,” she said. “Development assistance should help both communities in the long term once life in Arakan State returns to normalcy. If people in Burma feel that the OIC presence is an interference in the internal affairs of the country, they and the monks should immediately and urgently take responsibility to resolve the conflict peacefully.”